Republicans stand down for FBI investigation of Clinton server

Republicans are refusing to use the Benghazi playbook to go after Hillary Clinton’s private email server. 

Instead of launching formal investigations or propping up a new special committee to investigate the emails — as they did with the 2012 Libya terror attack — House Republicans have gone out of their way to avoid formal inquiries into allegations that classified information was mishandled on Clinton’s personal machine.

{mosads}“We have not had a pinpointed, targeted investigation of Hillary Clinton,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told The Hill this week. “The FBI’s got the lead on this.”

Chaffetz’s comments came after The Hill and other media outlets reported on his committee’s investigation into federal recordkeeping, which is likely to touch on Clinton’s use of a private email setup while secretary of State. But Chaffetz said that inquiry is only on the margins of the FBI’s investigation.

“Some of the reporting’s kind of been on the extremes on this,” Chaffetz said.

Separately, the House Science Committee had appeared to be moving toward in investigation into the private companies involved in the upkeep of Clinton’s server. But leaders of the committee backpedaled this month in response to a subtle public reprimand from the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The steadfast avoidance of an investigation into the emails appears to be a direct result of the heated politics around Benghazi, and the perception — held by many — that House leadership has spent more than a year of official time to attack Clinton’s presidential prospects.

On the campaign trail, Clinton derides any focus on the contentious email setup as a politically driven attack from Republicans.

“Before it was emails, it was Benghazi, and the Republicans were stirring up so much controversy about that,” Clinton said during a Democratic presidential debate last weekend. “That was all a political ploy.”

Republicans gave Clinton ammunition for those attacks last year, when McCarthy and others publicly suggested that the Benghazi panel was created to tear down Clinton’s campaign.

With the email issue casting a shadow over Clinton’s campaign, Republicans are trying not to make the same mistake.

“We’re meticulously trying to ensure that what we don’t do is inject anything that may be viewed as political into the process right now,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. 

The FBI has possession of Clinton’s server and for more than six months has been conducting an investigation related to the possible mishandling of classified information. Concerns about the situation have only risen with a slow but steady drip of leaks to news outlets, as well as the Obama administration’s acknowledgement that hundreds of Clinton’s messages were classified, some at the highest levels.

Letting the FBI handle the load, rather than House Republicans, may give the matter more legitimacy. Those backing the Oversight inquiry say they want the FBI to remain the lead investigator into Clinton’s email server.

“There’s an ongoing FBI investigation, that’s been very clear, and so you want to let that process work its way out,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who chairs the Oversight subcommittee on Information Technology, told The Hill. “I think we let that process play out, and after we have some finality to that, then I think you figure out what the next step is.”

Republicans also make the case that the Benghazi attack and Clinton’s private email use are completely separate issues that ought to be treated differently.

“The oversight task for Benghazi clearly, squarely, falls in Article 1 [of the Constitution],” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), a member of the Benghazi committee.

“Specific cases of how individuals handle [national security information] and whether they ought to be treated administratively or civilly or criminally is not the purview of Article 1,” he added. “So I think for that reason, they’re very, very different.”

Members of the Benghazi committee have made clear that their only interest in emails from Clinton and her top aides is in relation to the events before, during and after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.

Republicans on the Oversight Committee, too, maintained that their work is about the broader issue of federal recordkeeping — not Clinton’s case in particular.

“We need to make sure folks within the federal government are protecting information and doing the right things in order to ensure the information they have under their control is protected,” Hurd said. 

“We need to ensure that everybody in the hierarchy are involved in protecting information like they should.” 

Chaffetz, the committee chairman, said that his panel’s jurisdiction over federal recordkeeping laws means that “of course we’re going to pay attention to what’s happening” with Clinton’s case, but it’s not a main focus.

Still, some corners of Congress have already taken a more direct role. 

Lawmakers in the Senate have been eager to confront the issue head-on.

Leaders of the Senate’s Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees have sent multiple letters to administration officials and railed against what they have described as a breach of protocol for Clinton. 

“This is an extremely important issue that we’re talking about here,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told The Hill. “National security procedures and federal records, there are far too many members of this administration that are trying to circumvent [Freedom of Information Act] requests.”

“So this is very a serious inquiry,” added Johnson, who is up for reelection this year.

But many Democrats say it’s all a GOP ploy. 

They have accused Johnson of selectively leaking details to establish a negative and misleading narrative about Clinton’s email security. 

And on the House side, multiple Democrats described the federal records probe as a flimsy cover for another unnecessary Clinton investigation. 

“Of course,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on both the Oversight and Benghazi Committees, when asked if there were politics at play. “Come on.” 

“I think that prudence is coming into conflict with an ambitious chairman who sees this as an opportunity to get involved in the presidential campaign,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat and a member of the Select Committee on Benghazi, referring to Chaffetz.

“I think it’s a terrible abuse,” added Schiff, who has endorsed Clinton’s presidential bid. “And were the secretary not running for president, they would have zero interest in this.” 

Tags Adam Schiff Bob Corker Hillary Clinton Jason Chaffetz Ron Johnson
See all Hill.TV See all Video